by Carlota Gonçalves
Text first published for Contemporânea, Spring Edition © 2014
In the work of Margarida Paiva, video is used as a medium which responds to the artist’s intent to experiment with the image allowing to combine sounds, playing with the light, the space and the bodies. In addition to the formal aspects, there is a purpose to develop ideas and themes that have become recurrent in her work in which the focus is the woman. The woman is the central figure, and violence, isolation, trauma, pain, and an irreparable melancholy join this range of tensions that compose the universe of Margarida Paiva.
The first video of the artist was made in the forest in Norway, where she lives and works. There is nothing more inspiring for someone interested in nature and Land Art than to start in the Nordic landscape, which becomes a trigger for creation, in a meeting with the desire for the image and the aspiration to tell stories.
The videos of Margarida Paiva emphasize the mise en scène, an aspect which develops within a cinematographic style which creates links with performance. It approaches the docufiction when using real recordings of sound material in the narration as counterpoint to the fictional dimension in which the characters move. She prefers to use friends instead of actors, and makes use sometimes of her own person, in a close representation of the idea of ”automatically inspired and inventive models”*.
Margarida Paiva seems to empty the emotional expression of representation and leave the bodies to shape, or to model themselves to things, to the encounters and disencounters of images that are assembled in the montage – a meeting place for discovery and recomposition. The more realistic and direct sound layer adds a strange density to the overall tonality. The sound material is taken from radio or television news reports, and from various testimonies which restate the continuous accidents, violent and persistent, experienced by people portraying a world taken by its idiosyncrasies. In this world there is drama. A drama that discloses itself in the private domain sprawling to a larger dimension, and used as interference in everyday life, maybe just as background noise, turning into an echo of an undifferentiated banality of violence, this is what Margarida Paiva seems to alert us of.
Every Story Is Imperfect (2012)* is a video which responds to this demand for reality (or unreality). The news which continuously report, in this case women, disappeared, raped, or murdered, are informative data, cited by the media, where Margarida Paiva withdraws material and recreates an entire universe of interferences where women (several), and men (maybe two), inhabit the possibility of an ”unfinished” narrative*. The montage makes this incomplete appearance, through cuts between images which occur and repeat, as a discontinuous blow which is close to an idea of death. Time passes as the trains move. Someone climbs up and down the stairs (recurring element), walks through corridors, there are sad and empty eyes in close-up, and more hands and feet; bare feet that will go down the stairs like a painful crusade that insists on testing the ground. These are delicate operations which are revealed in the fragmented succession of images, as an expressive web, ambiguous and never transparent, as a communication of pain, loneliness, inhabited by a bursting melancholy. There is an ambiguous field that crosses the general composition like waiting for a mystery - at the end a woman disappears in a very green grassy field. Behind the leaves the camera and the viewer peek at this woman disappearing in nature. Salvation or death? We’re not sure.
The clarifying word of the real news reports is spreading the fictional plot which the film suggests and recreates webs of meaning. They seem to be thoughtful images, in the sense proposed by Rancière, as images that do not show through, don’t give away their meaning, encompass a tension and a duplicity attached through the nature of the recordings in cohesion: the fictional and the documentary. The images become therefore thoughtful in the sense that they provide, on the one hand, the continuation of the action (broken and split), and on the other hand, create a suspension that makes the picture inconclusive: “( … ) What is interrupted is the relationship between narration and expression”*.
The video I’ll Hurt You Before You Hurt Me (2013) is elaborated through the same principle of using authentic material in the story, alongside a fictional process, and in this case with a touch of thriller, another genre that interests the artist in this combination of forms. The voice-over was worked through from actual testimonies of women who killed. Here the woman turns from victim to killer, isolated, and emotionally thick. The rawness of the narrative facts distances itself, at times, from the appearance of the image. To speak about death, or of details of a murder, and walking through the woods where one can hear the birds is the same thing. Margarida Paiva expertly works with the mismatch between image and sound, and also some out-of-frame close-ups of faces. The close-up ”violent and obscene” (Bonitzer), hosts in itself a strength, a despair, allying itself with the out-of-frame which seems to accentuate the emotional imbalance and anguish of the characters. We follow the women from behind (another curious way to build the mystery, to go beyond the visible and open up the image to the distant, the unknown, to a kind of silence), dance in corridors, cross urban and architectural spaces and visit nature.
A House Full of Noises (2014) is the most recent video of the artist, which will be part of a sound installation, in the process of completion, with women’s voices telling stories in a conversational manner. The title comes from an earlier work Untitled Stories (2007) where a female voice, invoking memories, says: “I just moved here and the house is full of noises”. It is curious the adaptation that the artist makes of interchangeable elements and themes that are extended as lines of passage, echoes of voices, distant, traveling in memory and claiming to return. This is a house-woman, cocooned, container of memories and secrets, domestic space par excellence, which can better reflect the image of isolation, according to the artist. It is therefore in this interior, perhaps the ideal shelter and place for a dancing body and a mental dance, a bit classical, a bit primitive, where it faces a large window where shimmers of light enter. The atmosphere poeticizes itself in this scenario, and in the view of the character’s femininity, perfect silhouette with the hair covering her face, as it performs smooth and intense movements which conveys a thin and sharp pain binded to the floor and the light. The melodic and gentle music creates, towards the image, an even more harrowing and saddened connection with an invasive and penetrating power. In the end the woman disappears from the frame which becomes submersed by shadows, like a magnificent expressionist painting, in clear obscure, or a possible plastic configuration of pain.”( … ) Your film – let people feel the soul and the heart there, but let it be made like a work of hands”*- this phrase seems to resonate in the work of the artist.
Margarida Paiva’s work shows a female topography possessed by pain and visited by a desperate melancholy, or by an unnamed sadness. Strong and elusive, delicate, fragile and uncluttered images which give visibility to disintegrated bodies that look for a place outside and inside themselves. The physical spaces echo, nature and city, city and nature, and maybe the latter could be the possible place for new beginnings. Back to the forest where the images began.
* Bresson, Robert, 1995, “Notes sur le Cinématographe”, Ed Gallimard, Paris.
* Was one of three winning works of FOKUS 2014 Video Art Festival at Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen.
* From the text “The melancholia of imperfection”, by André Lamas Leite, 2012.
* Rancière, Jacques, 2010 , “The emancipated spectator” Trad . José Miranda Fair, Ed. Orfeu Negro, Lisbon.
* Bresson, Robert, 1995, “Notes sur le cinématographe”, Ed. Gallimard, Paris.
Carlota Gonçalves studied cinema (Realization) at the Conservatoire Libre Cinéma Français in Paris, has a Master in Communication Sciences - Film and TV at the New University of Lisbon and studied French Literature and Civilization at Paris Sorbonne University. Responsible for coordinating the Lisbon Talks IndieLisboa - International Festival for Independent Cinema and part of the selection committee for short films. Works as a teacher in Film History, Aesthetics and Writings.